The turnout to the climate rallies held all over the country on Saturday was very encouraging. It demonstrated that the citizens of New Zealand understand how devastating the consequences of climate change can be globally.
It was great to see some councillors from Hastings and Napier attend the Hawke's Bay rally. However, our local councils' silent response to the issue of climate change has been deafening to say the least. There does not seem to be any connection being made by staff of the causes of climate change and how it will affect their respective communities.
For example, commenting on the Government's recent block offer for oil and gas exploration, staff's recommendation to Napier City Council included "As the proposal falls outside the jurisdiction of Napier City Council officers have prepared a neutral submission highlighting the fact, but requesting ongoing dialogue with NZ Petroleum and Minerals". A neutral submission is all well and good but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's (PCE) recent report Preparing New Zealand for rising seas clearly shows that even at its most benign 1300 homes and businesses will be affected by sea level rise caused by climate change. So just how neutral can Napier City Council be when such drastic consequences face us?
Hawke's Bay Regional Council merely suggested that some parts of the block offer be withdrawn because they were too close to shore. The surprising thing about this recommendation was councillor Dick arguing that having oil rigs ruining the vista of our pristine Hawke's Bay horizon was not a problem. How well does the image of having to look at oil rigs flaring in the distance while walking on the Marine Parade broad-walk fit with our tourism destination image?
There is a direct correlation between the burning of fossil fuels and sea level rise. It should be clear to any reasonable person that we have enough proven reserves of fossil fuels without actually making the problem worse by going out looking for more. It is high time that our local bodies stood up to the nonsense spouted by this Government about oil and gas exploration and called them out on it. We do not need to be exploring for more oil and gas. The same goes for promoting anything that is linked to worsening climate change. We need to focus on becoming carbon neutral. Therefore we should be asking our councils that very question. What are you doing to become carbon neutral? There are many municipalities around the world who have pledged to become carbon neutral. By seemingly doing nothing Hawke's Bay councils are falling behind. Do we want our councils to be community leaders or not? How can we expect industry to become carbon neutral when our councils are not? Individual action is all well and good, but we also need to take collective action.
Recently I attempted to speak with Napier City Council CEO Wayne Jack about Napier becoming a carbon neutral city. I was fobbed off by being told in essence that 'we are working on it but we don't need your input'. To my mind this smacks of arrogance. If citizens are interested enough to get their hands dirty at ground level, before we are presented with a narrow range of options, why is that such a challenge for our public servants? It's as if for some reason they know better.
Funnily enough I had been speaking with a number of councillors offshore whose municipalities have pledged to become carbon neutral. Every one of them have said that the first step in the process is to make carbon neutrality a key performance indicator (KPI) for council CEOs. This links carbon neutrality outcomes to their salary. Otherwise nothing gets done. Surprise surprise.
Therefore to get our councils to become carbon neutral, such a goal needs to become one of our CEO's KPIs. Simply holding rallies and singing kymbaya is not enough. We need to start exerting political pressure on our elected representatives. It's how democracy works.
So that's our challenge. Put pressure on our local councils to do something rather than stick there heads in the sand. Don't be afraid to contact your local councillor. Tell them to make carbon neutrality one of their CEO's KPI. Anything less and I believe they are just fobbing us off. Until they take action they deserve our disdain, not our respect. After all they may be prepared to let our property values be destroyed because of inaction and be willing to pass our problems on to future generations, but I'm not.
-Paul Bailey is the Napier-based policy committee co-convener for the Green Party.
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